The gameplay in Hotline Miami is fast paced and unforgiving. You die in a single hit, and so do your very mobile, trigger happy enemies. At the start of each level, you’ll be given a choice of several different unlockable animal masks which give you certain benefits. One may give you faster movement speed while another provides a longer line of sight or more ammo. The mask cannot be changed until the chapter is complete. After picking a mask, the rules are simple: Kill everything that moves.
The left analogue stick will move your character, and the right stick changes his aim in a 360 degree circle around him. The left shoulder button picks up (and throws) weapons, and the right shoulder button uses whatever weapon you have equipped (or swings your fists if you’re unarmed). X will finish off enemies that are unconscious or injured, and will also interact with usable items in the game world.
Contrary to what it looks like, it isn’t mindless violence – you need to plan ahead quite a bit
You can also pan the screen to see further, and target enemies so you don’t have to aim at them manually. Due to the sensitive controls, precision aim on firearms and mobility of your enemies, these are two features you’ll be very happy for. On the PS Vita version in particular, these features work very well as they are handled by the touch screen. The touch screen is intuitive, natural and efficient at both targeting and panning – even better than the original PC mouse controls.
Weapons come in many varieties, and a good level score will unlock more of them for you to find in the game. You’ll lay your hands on melee weapons like samurai swords, hammers, throwable knives and metal pipes. You’ll also get your fair share of firearms, including pistols, rifles, shotguns and submachine guns. If you run out of ammo in a pinch, the firearms can also be tossed to knock out an enemy, and doors can be slammed at them for the same effect.
Sometimes you can lure almost everyone into a trap.
Each weapon handles quite differently, and it’s genuinely fun to try getting through the levels using different weapons and tactics. Some weapons, admittedly, are better than others, but the game doesn’t come across as imbalanced. You feel more like you’re improvising as you go and you’ll have to use whatever tools you have available, good or bad.
While true improvisation works occasionally, you’ll spend most of the game planning how to pull off the perfect string of kills. Certain enemies will walk in patterns and others won’t. Occasionally, some may break their pattern, or assume one they weren’t previously following. Some will rush you with melee weapons, and others will kill you from afar with a gun. You’ll have to deal with dogs that dash after you quickly and need a weapon to kill, and you’ll find a few larger enemies that need to be killed by shotguns specifically. All enemies are attracted to the sound of gunfire. Figuring out how to take them out one by one, without alerting the others… or perhaps how to alert them all, and lure them into a trap, is what makes Hotline Miami thrilling and fun.